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I’m not sure why it took a backpacking trip through North and South Thailand to get me hooked on Thai food, but it certainly did the trick. My favorite food for the past decade continues to be Thai, and I’m especially partial to authentic Thai curries, in particular the Panang curry.
Note that I say authentic. It’s not all that easy finding good tasting, authentic Thai food, much less Thai curries. It’s for this reason that we bring you our famous Panang curry recipe, based on a recipe that has been handed down through the generations. With a slight twist that is – we make it a bit easier for you to make. We also provide a quick and easy version for those of you that have a Trader Joe’s nearby.
Panang Curry Recipe
Panang curry (or Penang curry) is our favorite of the common Thai curries (red, green, yellow, brown). Panang curry is often made as a vegetarian curry as well (simply make it without meat or fish).
Note that Panang curry is not red curry – Panang, when made according to Thai tradition, is made using the cream of the coconut milk, and provides a thicker, pastier curry than the red curry, which is more of a soup curry. Furthermore, Panang curry is fried in coconut milk, as opposed to red curry, which is boiled. It is possible, however, to make a “soup” version of this curry, and that is actually our favorite.
This recipe makes two large servings. In most cases you’ll have some leftovers, so this could easily be enough for three people (as it usually is in our case).
Panang Curry Paste
At some point in the future we may add a section on making the Panang curry paste, but for now, it’s easy to simply buy some at your local grocery store. Panang curry paste is made up of:
- Chili peppers (5 large dried red chili peppers, seeded and soaked – prig kee nu chili is the most authentic choice)
- Galangal (a root) (1 tsp, sliced)
- Lemongrass (fresh, yellow section only – 1 tsp, thinly sliced using a very sharp knife)
- Coriander (1 tsp)
- Cilantro (root or stem – 1 tsp, sliced)
- Ground Cumin (1 tsp)
- Garlic (1 clove, pressed)
- Shallots (5, sliced)
- Peanuts (optional, 1/4 cup)
- Kaffir Lime (the rind – 12 leaves, sliced)
- Shrimp paste (optional, 1 Tbsp)
- Sea Salt (1 tsp)
- Pepper (white or black – 2 tsp)
Panang Curry Paste – Preparation
To make the panang curry paste, simply combine all the ingredients and pound with a mortar and pestle. You can also blend it all together in a food processor or blender.
The ingredients for our Panang curry recipe are as follows:
Panang Curry Ingredients
- Protein: Chicken, beef, pork, shrimp, or, since we eat mostly vegetarian, we use extra firm tofu sautéed in a couple Tbsp of olive or canola oil until browned (it is important to brown the tofu before you add it to the curry)
- Rice (2 cups)
- Coconut milk (use light coconut milk if you prefer) (2 cans)
- Panang curry paste (1.5 Tbsp)
- Brown sugar (3 Tbsp)
- Fish sauce (2 Tbsp)
- Green Peas or Sugar Snap Peas (1/2 cup)
- Kaffir lime leaves (4-6)
- Sweet basil leaves (for garnish)
- Some water (to thin out and make more soupy, less thick)
Making your Panang Curry
Making the rice – boiling rice is not the most difficult part. For those that want a quick and easy way to boil rice – simply combine 2 cups rice, 4 cups water, 1 tsp salt, and 2 tsp butter in a microwave safe container with a lid. (There are many microwave rice cookers available on the market now, we use a Pampered Chef vegetable steamer). Microwave on high temperature for 5 minutes, and then on medium for 15 minutes. Note that the cooking time applies specifically to the portions. If you use less or more rice you’ll need to adjust the cooking time accordingly. If you’re unsure of the ratios to use, simply make two or more batches. If you’re boiling your rice on the stove, pour the whole mixture into a pot, bring it to a boil, cover and then simmer for 20 minutes on low to medium heat.
Making the curry – Mix the coconut milk, curry paste, sugar, and fish sauce together in a pot, bring to a boil and let it boil for 5 minutes. Next, add your meat, seafood or pre-cooked tofu (optional), peas and kaffir lime leaves and simmer for an additional ten minutes. Before you remove from heat, make sure the meat or seafood is cooked all the way! Take the thickest piece, cut it in half, and verify that it’s cooked all the way through. If you find that you’ve boiled down your curry too much – and it tastes too thick, salty and concentrated, add some water to thin it out.
Serving the curry – When you’re all done, remove everything from the heat, and fill a bowl about halfway with rice, then top with curry (our favorite way to enjoy this meal). Or, for a more traditional approach, stuff all the rice in a small bowl, then turn the bowl upside down on a plate and tap it until the rice ball falls out (this is an easy way to make a fancy looking rice ball, like the ones you’re served in Thai restaurants). Next, pour a good portion of curry into a medium sized bowl, and place it next to the rice ball and serve. You may want to garnish it with sweet basil or thai basil leaves before serving.
Express (Quick) Panang Curry Recipe
If you’re in a hurry, or haven’t quite gotten the above thai red curry recipe to taste like you want it to, there’s a shortcut. This will not taste quite like the authentic red curry you’ll get in Thailand, and it uses somewhat different ingredients, but it’s super quick, healthy, natural, and very tasty. The secret? Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry Sauce (an 11 oz. bottle in the Asian/sauce section of Trader Joe’s).
Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry Sauce Ingredients
Curious as to what is in TJ’s red curry sauce and how closely it resembles the ingredients in our Panang curry paste? The primary ingredients are:
- Coconut Milk
- Red Chili Puree
- Canola Oil
- Onion Powder
- Egg Yolks
Making Panang Curry with Trader Joe’s Thai Red Curry Sauce
If you’ve decided to take the express route and make your Panang curry with Trader Joe’s red curry sauce, your job is even easier. Simply bring the red curry sauce to a simmer over medium heat, then add your meat, seafood or pre-cooked tofu (optional), and your peas and kaffir leaves, and simmer until the meat is cooked. You can even add carrots (peeled and sliced), potatoes (peeled and sliced) or other vegetables that you think would work well in this curry recipe. Then serve as described above.
Hungry For More?
Learn more about other types of curry and the history of the cuisine. Bobby Flay also cooks up an easy Grilled Shrimp curry in this 3 minute video. Enjoy!